Fela Kuti, Zombies, and the Kalakuta Republic

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KCRW regularly features Fela Kuti’s music (and that of his two songs Femi and Seun), something we’ve been doing since 1980, when KCRW first started broadcasting Fela’s incendiary music.

In 1986, KCRW had its first “KCRW Presents”  Fela Kuti and Egypt 80 at the Olympic Auditorium in downtown LA.  I had the chance to interview him then. Fela talked about his compound, which he called The Kalakuta Republic, where he lived with his 27 wives, his large band, and his famous mother, whose political activism granted women the right to drive in Nigeria and won her a Lenin Peace Prize.  She was sent to Moscow to receive this honor.

And Fela always had special feelings for Los Angeles, since this was where he was politicized by one Sondra Izsidore, who taught him about politics and Black Nationalism when Fela lived in LA in 1969.

While at KCRW in the Summer of 1986 on Morning Becomes Eclectic, Fela told me about the 1977 song “Zombie”, how it criticized Nigeria’s military regime and its automaton soldiers who would follow whatever orders they were given.  The military government didn’t like Fela’s criticism of the dictatorship and the endemic corruption that has plagued Nigeria.  And so 1000 soldiers were dispatched the compound, beating up Fela, who received bullet wounds, and burning the compound to the ground.  The soldiers also assaulted Fela’s mother, pushing her out of a 2nd floor window.  She was mortally injured and went into a coma, dying eight days later.  Fela talked about all this as we  listened with rapt attention.  It’s dangerous to criticize Nigeria’s leaders and army.